A Christmas Tale

I love the artwork for the cover the dvd

My affection for french films goes deep. I love hearing the french language spoken (I don’t want to brag, but I used to take french in high school. I am quite a master at the language…. I can say things like omelete du fromage quite easily.) and I love the stories that french filmmakers come up with. It might be because the auteur theory comes from France and can be applied to so many french filmmakers with no effort, but I have seen more films that have an important director behind it than an important star in the film. That isn’t always the case for me when I watch films in general, especially english language films. I have been known to watch a film solely based on my love for the actor in it (with middling results sometimes). When it comes to french films, I just don’t watch all the films that Catheriene Deneuve is in, for instance. In fact she isn’t that major of  a draw for me. I have only seen a couple of her films and she is usually not the one I latch onto in these films that I watch. In fact I absolutely hated her in two films of hers that I have watched. I won’t mention them for self-preservation reasons and because I plan to revisit those two films in the near future. But it is the same for several other actors of the French persuasion that are lauded, including such greats as Vincent Cassel or Gerard Depardieu. These three people who I have mentioned are only the beginning in a long line of actors that are great and that I have barely seen anything of their work. I hope to remedy that in the near future, especially with Catherine Deneuve. The reason is simple: I liked her a lot in this film.

She plays a wife who is recently diagnosed with a serious cancer. She has little chance to live unless she gets a transplant of a bone marrow from a match. She decides to call her estranged family back for what could be one last christmas for her. They all take a test to see if they match and no one does other than the tortured child of her first child and the exiled second child. This brings tension to the family gathering, along with other developments that happen throughout the course of the film. Although the developments sometimes seem contrived and banal, what keeps me interested in this film is the characters.

For instance I liked the performance of Mathieu Amalric who play Henri the middle and exiled child. I liked him for his wit which was sometimes biting and other times abrasive to the point of throat choking. However he had such an interchange with Catherine’s character that I felt the loss she had when he was exiled from the family. One of my favorite scenes from this film is when he comes home for the first time and he sits next to his mother outside to smoke a cigarette together. She tells him that he was the worst child and that she isn’t happy to see him in a voice that obviously betrays the exact opposite. He calls her old and senile in an affectionate tone that makes it sweet. I like when films get the joking around aspect of some families right. Real feelings among families are usually not said bluntly, but hinted at and expressed with wit. I found the scene to be cute.

I did have some problems with the film. I thought the complications that show up in the middle of the film did nothing to the plot other than make it longer. For instance I would have preferred to have the lust that the cousin feels for the youngest son’s wife to go unrequited. I think it would have made for a better ending between her and the cousin. I also thought that oldest child was one of the most lame characters in the film. It may have been intentional, but holy crap was she annoying. We get it, you are depressed and controlling and you may have helped your child develop a mental illness due to you constantly over protecting him. Just leave the frame now.

I feel like the film would have been better if it was pared down to Catherine’s interactions with her children and her husband only. That may be harsh to say of a film that I liked, but sometimes I just wanted to reach into the screen, shake the characters and ask them if this is really what they want to be doing right now when their mother is dying. I recommend watching this film after you have had an exasperated visit with your family and realize that everyone’s family is just annoying and self concerned as yours is. That is at least what I came to the conclusion of after watching this film.


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